As we celebrate Black History Month, which takes place every February, RespectAbility recognizes the contributions made and the important presence of African-Americans to the United States. It is important to note this includes more than 5.6 million African-Americans living with a disability in the U.S., 3.4 million of which are working-age African-Americans with disabilities.
Therefore, we would like to reflect on the realities and challenges that continue to shape the lives of African-Americans with disabilities.
Only 28.7 percent of working-age African-Americans with disabilities are employed in the U.S. compared to 72 percent of working-age African-Americans without disabilities. This is in line with the rest of the country, with fully one-in-five Americans having a disability and just 30 percent of those who are working-age being employed, despite polls showing that most of them want to work. This leads to approximately 40 percent of African-Americans with disabilities living in poverty compared to 22 percent of African-Americans without disabilities.
Deafblind lawyer Haben Girma advocates for inclusion in both education and Hollywood.
For many of the 1,199,743 black students (K-12) with disabilities in America today, the deck is stacked against them. Frequently “invisible disabilities” such as ADHD are not diagnosed and students do not get the supports they need to achieve. Frustrated, they can act out and become suspended. African-American students with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by suspension in schools, with more than one in four boys of color with disabilities — and nearly one in five girls of color with disabilities — receiving an out-of-school suspension.
Studies show that when students miss too many days, either for being truant or just being absent, they get so far behind in class that it can lead to them dropping out of school. As documented in Disability & Criminal Justice Reform: Keys to Success, this can lead to the school-to-prison pipeline. Today there are more than 750,000 people with disabilities behind bars in America. Many of them do not have high school diplomas, are functionally illiterate and are people of color.
Harriet Tubman did not let her epileptic seizures stop her from risking her life to free slaves through the underground railroad.
Overall, only 65 percent of students with disabilities graduate high school compared to 84 percent of students without disabilities. However, only 57 percent of black students with disabilities graduate high school compared to 74.6 percent of black students without disabilities.
Some celebrities and business leaders are using their voice to share their stories, educating people about both visible and invisible disabilities. They are defying the statistics and have remained highly successful with their disabilities. These role models make a big difference in setting high expectations for youth with disabilities. People with disabilities of all backgrounds can be amongst the highest achievers on earth. Harriet Tubman had Epilepsy, actress Halle Berry lives with diabetes, business leader and Shark Tank superstar Daymond John is dyslexic and Stevie Wonder is blind. Each of them is a positive role model for success. They are perfect candidates for RespectAbility’s #RespectTheAbility campaign, which is shining a light on individuals with disabilities who are succeeding in their chosen careers.
Millions of Americans have a ‘side hustle’ to supplement their income. How does one supplement their income? Some are turning to ‘side hustles’ to get some extra cash while simultaneously pursuing their passions.
In an effort to boost their income level as well as pursue their passions, research shows millions of Americans are turning to “side hustles.”
A study of 2,000 full-time employees showed 27 percent of them turned their hobby into a side business, while 55 percent of them said they dreamed of finding a side hustle themselves.
The average income for these side hustles, according to the research commissioned by Vistaprint, was more than $14,000 annually post-tax.
“America’s side business economy is booming, as employees increasingly look for financial, professional and personal fulfillment that may not be present in their main job,” Simon Braier, Vistaprint’s customer strategy and insights director, said.
Of the most common side businesses, beauty and wellness was a clear favorite, which includes professions like dieticians, personal trainers and hairdressers. Arts and entertainment was another popular choice, including being an artist, a DJ or a designer.
While a majority of people took on a side hustle to earn some extra cash, 41 percent did it to spend more time going something they enjoy.
“While many side hustles are born out of a personal interest or hobby, they don’t have to stay small,” Braier said. “Side business owners can test their venture’s long-term viability, growth and marketing opportunities in a safer setting, helping them to ease the transition into full-time entrepreneurship and spend more time doing what they love.”
Most of the people surveyed said they work on their side hustle in between the hours of 5 p.m and 9 p.m., but nearly half of them work their side job on the weekends. Those polled said they typically work up to 16 hours a week, but 34 percent of them said they spend more than 20 hours on their side hustle.
Afropunk recently marked its 15th year as an arts and music festival dedicated to showcasing black talent, initially within the punk subculture, but has since expanded its horizons to including black creativity at large.
Beyond the music lineups that are typically the pull to the festival, (this year’s performers included Tierra Whack, Junglepussy FKA Twigs, Death Grips, and more) Afropunk has solidified itself as a fashionepicenter. Much of the excitement and the build-up that surrounds the idea of attending Afropunk is being able to experience and observe that art of dressing.
Today, it’s really hard to define punk style as monolithically as it has been defined in the past (white male working-class rage), especially when it pertains to black folks and other people of color taking the aesthetic and building off of it based on their lived experiences. At Afropunk, you’ll see everything from interpretations of Afro-Futurism to Banjee Girls, Death Metal Mamas, awe-inspiring takes on gender-bending, and larger than life cosplay-esque ensembles. Among the overflow of afros, braids, neons, chainmail, kaftans, dashikis (the list actually goes on) is a sense of camaraderie, respect, and belonging– shared and recognized among festival-goers.
This year, the theme of the festival was “WE SEE YOU,” a declaration that Afropunk organizers say, “brings together Afropunk ideology and the people who support it, under the banner of acknowledgment, in resistance to those who strive to oppress.” What better way to be “seen” than the most obvious form of self-expression itself? Fashion, of course.
To say that festival-goers wreaked havoc on their wardrobes could be an understatement, but that, combined with the right treatment of an outfit is destined to be a win-win. And we witnessed lots of wins over the weekend, fashion home-runs to be exact!
Teen Vogue spoke to some of the best-dressed Afropunk attendees to learn what “punk” meant to them and of the many ways style can help you live your life as authentically as possible.
Continue on to Teen Vogue for the interview and more AfroPunk looks.
Over the weekend, LL COOL J returned to his hometown in Queens to host the closing ceremonies of the 15th Annual Jump & Ball Community Camp. LL was greeted by the more than 200 youth who participated in the month long camp and residents of the neighborhood where he grew up.
Launched in 2005 by LL COOL J, Jump & Ball is a free and fun-filled camp every Saturday & Sunday during the month of August for hundreds of kids from Southeast Queens.
The program was developed as an opportunity for the kids in the community to not only learn the game of basketball but also learn team building and leadership skills critical to life off the court.
LL has always been an avid philanthropist involved in numerous causes including literacy for kids as well as music and arts programs in schools. Celebrating its 15th Anniversary this year, LL’s charity “Jump & Ball” – which takes place every August in his hometown of Queens, New York – aims to give back to his local community by offering a five-week athletic and team building program dedicated to bringing wholesome fun to young people.
Guests enjoyed lie music courtesy of Rock the Bells, LL COOL J’s curated Sirius XM channel featuring classic hip hop, a special performance by the Harlem Globetrotters, free food, free back to school haircuts and more.
Former President Barack Obama released his annual summer reading list and the late Toni Morrison featured prominently in his recommendations.
“It’s August, so I wanted to let you know about a few books I’ve been reading this summer, in case you’re looking for some suggestions,” he said in the Facebook Post.
“To start, you can’t go wrong by reading or re-reading the collected works of Toni Morrison. Beloved, Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eye, Sula, everything else — they’re transcendent, all of them.”
The Nobel laureate died Aug. 5 after a brief illness, her family announced.
“It is with profound sadness we share that, following a short illness, our adored mother and grandmother, Toni Morrison, passed away peacefully last night surrounded by family and friends,” her family said in a statement shared by USA Today. “She was an extremely devoted mother, grandmother and aunt who reveled in being with her family and friends. The consummate writer who treasured the written word, whether her own, her students or others, she read voraciously and was most at home when writing. Although her passing represents a tremendous loss, we are grateful she had a long, well-lived life.”
After Morrison’s death, Obama shared a remembrance on social media. “Toni Morrison was a national treasure,” he wrote. “Her writing was not just beautiful but meaningful — a challenge to our conscience and a call to greater empathy. She was as good a storyteller, as captivating, in person as she was on the page.”
ABC’s “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” reality shows continue to be ratings gold for the broadcast network. But critics say they don’t succeed when it comes to diversity.
Although attorney Rachel Lindsay became the first African American to lead either of these programs when she starred in the 13th season of “The Bachelorette” and soccer player Juan Pablo Galavis was “The Bachelor’s” first Latino lead when he starred in Season 18, there has never been a male African-American star of “The Bachelor” in its 23 seasons.
ABC president Karey Burke was asked about this controversy on Monday when she spoke to journalists at the network’s Television Critics Association press day in Beverly Hills.
“I can tell you, the conversations are ongoing about who the next Bachelor will be,” Burke replied. “I do think that the show has worked hard to increase diversity in casting. And, as that evolves, we’ll continue to see more diversity in the franchise.”
Later, Burke was also asked about the issues surrounding the recently completed chapter of “The Bachelorette.” That finale revealed that chosen suitor Jed Wyatt was already in a relationship when he began competing on the show.
Burke, who started her job at ABC in November, said that she’s still new to this process but that “I’ve been quite impressed by the production company [behind “The Bachelor”] and the show’s interest in continuing to improve and expand its vetting processes.”
“It’s an on-going journey,” she said. “Human behavior is mercurial and I think the show does as good a job as it can vetting contestants.”
Simone Biles won her sixth all-around title at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Sunday, plus did a historic clean triple-double in floor exercise.
Biles, 22, did the triple-double in the preliminaries Friday in floor exercise, too, the first time a woman had ever completed the complex move of two flips with three twists in competition. But she put her hands down on the landing then, which frustrated her. She didn’t do that Sunday and was so happy with the move that she retweeted video of it during the competition.
“I didn’t want to be the last person to see it,” Biles said of checking her phone for the video, “so I went online to see what it looked like, so that me and [coach Laurent Landi] could watch it. But I was very pleased that I actually landed it this time in competition.”
Biles won the all-around title easily; her 118.500 was almost 5 full points ahead of second-place finisher Sunisa Lee at 113.550. Grace McCallum was third at 111.850. Biles has won 20 consecutive all-around titles dating back six years, including at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Sunday, Biles also won the titles in the vault (30.850), balance beam (29.650) and, of course, floor exercise (29.450), which she especially has elevated to must-see TV whenever she’s performing. And even in the event she calls her least favorite, uneven bars, she finished third (28.800).
Lee, a 16-year-old from Minnesota, won the bars with a score of 29.800 and was the only woman other than Biles to walk away with a gold medal from these championships. She acknowledged she watches all of Biles’ routines with a sense of awe.
Continue on to ESPN News to read the complete article.
Toni Morrison, the Nobel laureate in literature whose best-selling work explored black identity in America — and in particular the often crushing experience of black women — through luminous, incantatory prose resembling that of no other writer in English, died on Monday in the Bronx. She was 88.
Her death, at Montefiore Medical Center, was announced by her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf. A spokeswoman said the cause was complications of pneumonia. Ms. Morrison lived in Grand View-on-Hudson, N.Y.
The first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1993, Ms. Morrison was the author of 11 novels as well as children’s books and essay collections. Among them were celebrated works like “Song of Solomon,” which received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977, and “Beloved,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988.
Ms. Morrison was one of the rare American authors whose books were both critical and commercial successes. Her novels appeared regularly on the New York Times best-seller list, were featured multiple times on Oprah Winfrey’s television book club and were the subject of myriad critical studies. A longtime faculty member at Princeton, Ms. Morrison lectured widely and was seen often on television.
You don’t have to be a parent to know that parenting is a full-time job with barely any breaks in between; and ensuring your child is well attended to is an around the clock task, even when they aren’t in your presence.
Shan Cureton, a mother of three, understands this all too well. She is the founder of Kiddie Commute, a full-service transportation company for kids located in the greater San Diego area; and the only Black woman-owned transportation company in the state. It is also the only comprehensive service that serves the needs of parents and caregivers, offering safety and reliability.
Launched in 2017, Kiddie Commute was created purely out of need. “I am a busy working mother. At the time, I worked and went to school full time. My youngest son was in Kindergarten, I had another son in middle school, and a daughter in high school. It was challenging picking up my youngest son from class in the middle of the day when I had to work or be in class.” Cureton says she didn’t have family available to help her with school pick-ups. “Adding to that stress, my oldest two were taking Lyft.
I was a nervous wreck as I watched the ticker on the app pick up my most precious assets and drop them off at home. I couldn’t focus because let’s face it, they were strangers. I had no peace of mind and assurance that the driver was safe.” Cureton did some research online and discovered that it was illegal for Lyft to transport minors alone. “Some drivers would anyway, and some would cancel the ride when they found out it was a child they were picking up. I searched online for a company that could solve my problem, there wasn’t a local one, and that’s when the light bulb went on. Kiddie Commute was born.”
Being a woman of color, Shan was ready to take on the challenges of creating and launching the company. Any hardships or frustrations that would come were worth it. “With the business and entrepreneurship being dominated by males, it’s sometimes challenging for your voice to be heard. When you can get a word in edgewise you are seen as domineering or too boisterous. This is very disheartening as running a tech company requires a tenacious leader that’s not afraid to step out on the balcony.”
Continue on to Black News to read the complete article.
Protesters who are demonstrating against a massive telescope being built in Hawaii have a big supporter in Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson.
Johnson made an appearance at the site of the protests Wednesday and told people there that he stands with them as they fight to prevent the Thirty Meter Telescope from being built on an area considered to be a sacred ground by some Native Hawaiians.
“This is such a critical moment and a pivotal time,” Johnson told the protesters. “Because the world is watching.”
Wednesday marked the 10th day of protests that have involved demonstrators blocking the road to the summit of Mauna Kea, where the state’s Supreme Court has approved a $1.4 billion telescope to be built.
Johnson, who is not of Hawaiian descent, spent part of his youth living in the state.
Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim says he wants to work with the protesters to find a common ground and avoid the community become divided. He is working on behalf of Hawaii Gov. David Ige.
Barack Obama Teaming up with NBA for Professional Basketball League in Africa
The National Basketball Association (NBA) and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) announced their plan to launch the Basketball Africa League (BAL)— a new professional league featuring 12 club teams from across Africa—and former President Barack Obama is reportedly going to be involved, according to The Associated Press. Obama recently tweeted, “I’ve always loved basketball because it’s about building a team that’s equal to more than the sum of its parts. Glad to see this expansion into Africa because for a rising continent, this can be about a lot more than what happens on the court.”
BAL will be built on the foundation of current club competitions the FIBA is organizing in Africa. Scheduled to begin play in January 2020, BAL would mark the NBA’s first collaboration to operate a league outside of North America.
The NBA also recently announced its plan to introduce a re-imagined direct-to-consumer offering of NBA games for fans in Africa by the start of the 2019–20 NBA season. The offering would include new packages, features and localized content, with additional details to be announced at a later date.
The NBA and FIBA plan to conduct qualification tournaments later this year to identify the 12 teams that would represent several African countries, including Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia, with no more than two teams from the same country able to qualify.
The two organizations also plan to dedicate financial support and resources toward the continued development of Africa’s basketball ecosystem, including training for players, coaches and referees, as well as infrastructure investment.
Queen Latifah is Developing Affordable Housing in Newark
Queen Latifah, the Grammy award-winning musical artist, acclaimed television and film actress, label president, author, entrepreneur and now developer, is investing in a $14 million development of multi-family town homes as co-president of the Blue Sugar Corporation, alongside Gonsosa Development.
According to nj.com, rents for the market rate units will start around $1,800 a month and are expected to open by December 2020. The affordable housing building is expected to be finished in December 2021, and units there will be priced according to a person’s income.
The New Jersey-born native isn’t the first celebrity to break ground in Newark—former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal constructed a $79 million, 22-story apartment complex called Shaq Tower.
Jaden Smith Partners with Flint church to Provide Fresh Water
First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church spent a year working with Jaden Smith and his foundation JUST on a mobile filtration system called The Water Box that reduces lead and other potential contaminants. According to mlive.com, the box utilizes the same filtration system Smith’s bottled water company JUST Water uses.
The eco-friendly company was founded by Smith and his dad Will Smith in 2015. “While Jaden was surfing as a young kid, some plastic water bottles floated by him and he soon realized they were dirtying our oceans and killing the environment,” said Will. “He was immediately motivated to do something to save our planet; our future—and with that JUST Water was born.”
With a career spanning almost three decades, Common’s journey in the spotlight has been anything but.
Along the way, he’s gained an ever-expanding list of titles and credits that run the gamut: rapper, artist, father, actor, activist, model, author, designer, philanthropist, Microsoft ambassador, and Academy Award winner, to name a few.
But if you’re thinking that’s enough to satisfy this modern-day Renaissance Man, you’re wrong. “I revel in the fact that in being all of these things, I don’t have to choose,” said the multi-hyphenate talent. “I want to do and be more…what I’ve accomplished so far is great, but there is always more to achieve.”
Voice of the Future
Common might’ve had his start in the music industry, but he’s no stranger to the world of STEM. In fact, he’s had a long-standing relationship with tech behemoth Microsoft dating all the way back to 2008, when the two partnered to launch Softwear (a play on “software”), a retro clothing line of T-shirts featuring MS-DOS (an operating system) font. Six years later, that partnership was re-birthed as the tech giant searched for a spokesperson to helm its first Super Bowl commercial. Common sent in a tape explaining why he wanted to lend his voice, and the rest—they say—is history. Since the inaugural commercial in 2014, the artist has lent his voice to a multitude of commercials, shorts, and presentations touting the importance of advancing technology and the infinite possibilities created by Microsoft’s artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.
“Technology is possibility, adaptability, and capability,” he muses in one spot. “It’s not about changing what came before—it’s about creating what comes next. Right now, we have more power at our fingertips than entire generations that came before us…the question is, what will we do with it?”
Actor to Activist
Common’s firm footing in the entertainment industry might sound like a full-time endeavor, but he has consciously created the time and space to enrich and advocate for the causes he believes in. “The truth is, you don’t have to be an actor, or an athlete, or an influencer to make a difference,” he said in a recent interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Ernie Suggs. “All you have to do is have a desire the make the world a better place. Every human being can do it, and I have a desire to do my part.”
This desire has manifested into fervent action focused on increasing and championing diversity and mentoring youth in the inner-cities of his home state, among other things.
In January, he delivered the closing keynote at the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion conference, a gathering of more than 250 Chief Human Resource Officers (CHRO) and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officers (CDO) from an array of Fortune 500 companies on a mission to provide tangible, ready-to-implement strategies to encourage and increase diversity and inclusion both internally and within their local communities.
“My interest in promoting diversity was rooted in my looking in these communities and seeing certain people not having access to the same opportunities,” said the ardent advocator. “The undeniable fact is that we need to see more women and POC [people of color] in positions of power—same for different beliefs and those in the LGBTQ+ community.” “We have to figure out ways to increase the diversity, and that starts with a conversation. For me, I love being in a position where I can be a part of the paradigm shift and contribute to that conversation.”
Speaking to C-suite leaders about diversity isn’t the only way Common is lending his voice to the diversity conversation. In 2018, after African-American business partners Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were racially profiled in a Starbucks—causing national outrage—the chain subsequently closed 8,000 stores for a day to conduct anti-bias training. The voice they heard in those videos, stressing the importance of anti-discrimination and inclusivity? Take a guess. The art of the give-back has further manifested into the creation of the Common Ground Foundation, an organization dedicated to reach and impact inner-city youth in Chicago through mentorship and college-preparation programs. For more than a decade, the foundation has intimately focused on nutrition, healthy living, financial living, character development, and creative expression—even holding youth leadership conferences and summer camps. With more than $230,000 in scholarships awarded, a 100 percent graduation rate among participants, a 99 percent college attendance rate, and more than 2,500 collective hours of community service provided to the community, the organization has earned the distinction of an impactful labor of love.
“I started the Common Ground Foundation because I wanted to help,” said the philanthropist. “I think making a difference in the lives of others is life’s greatest purpose, and I always believed that of we started with the youth, we’d be planting the seeds for our future to blossom.”
A Tale of Common Sense
Common, born Lonnie Rashid Lynn to an educator mother and youth counselor father, was raised in the Calumet Heights neighborhood of Chicago, where his foray into the world of music developed and thrived. Talented and precocious, he was writing lyrics by age 12, and at 15, formed a rap trio—C.D.R.—with two high school friends. Far from just an after-school hobby, the group served as an industry incubator, not only building his proficiency in writing, producing and performing, but also aiding in his personal branding as an artist.
“C.D.R. represented so much in my life, and it was the birthplace of a lot of artistic firsts,” remembered Common. “That acronym was a revolving door of different meanings—it mainly stood for Corey, Deon, Rashid [our names], but on other days, it was Compact Disc Recorder, or Recording Def Rhymes. We were learning how to record, making demos, writing songs, performing—just trying to figure ourselves out and do our thing.” Influenced by hip-hop’s titans of the time, including LL Cool J, Run DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, NWA, and Rakim, C.D.R. went on to gain a footing in the industry, having their songs played on the University of Chicago’s local radio station and opening concerts for Big Daddy Kane, Eazy-E, and Too Short.
Upon graduation, Common enrolled at Florida A&M University under a scholarship, where he majored in business administration. His artistic streak remained uninterrupted, however, and in 1991, after being featured in The Source magazine’s Unsigned Hype column, he left A&M to sign with Relativity Records. It was under this label that he released his first album, “Can I Borrow a Dollar?”, using the moniker Common Sense. The album was an underground success, and laid the groundwork (as well as a growing fanbase) for his subsequent albums and collaborations. To date, Common has won more than 20 awards from various distinguished award bodies for his lyrics, albums and performances, including a 2015 Academy Award for his and singer John Legend’s original song “Glory” (from the Selma soundtrack), three Grammys, four BET Awards, a Golden Globe, and an Emmy. He has also garnered over 40 nominations in the music industry.
More than Music
Had Common been content to produce records, pull awards, and perform his hits for dedicated fans around the world, that might’ve been the end of the story. But, true to his character, he always had his sights set for more—much more. He began making his mark in the film and television industry in the early 2000s, often making cameos as himself and later evolving into more complex roles in well-known films, such as American Gangster (starring Denzel Washington), Wanted, Just Wright, Suicide Squad, Selma (as activist James Bevel), and installments of the John Wick franchise, to name a few. His constantly growing acting portfolio, which currently includes more than 40 films, supports a long-term goal to eventually become one of the great actors of our time.
“I’m still working to get to where I want to be, and I’m always working to get to the next level,” he said. “The majority of roles I want, they’re looking at other actors for. But I’m always going to fight to prove myself.” As he works tirelessly to widen his range and nab multifaceted roles, Common is also focused on another goal: helping amplify the creative voices of others through his nearly five-year-old production company, Freedom Road Productions. To date, he has executive produced Showtime’s popular drama The Chi (created by screenwriter Lena Waithe, the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series), and last year, signed a deal to develop and produce new television series with Lionsgate TV.
On the Horizon
Common’s career in the spotlight has diverged into many paths during its three-decade journey, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Add to that his impactful work in mentorship, advocacy, and diversity, and a bevy of new projects within all of these fields, and it’s safe to say that he may never stop. Next up is his second book, Let Love Have the Last Word, a personal anthology exploring the core tenets of love to help others give and receive love to live better lives and build stronger communities. Following on the heels of his New York Times best-selling memoir, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, the book is sure to be a page-turner.
On the film front, the actor will feature or star in three upcoming films: The Informer, The Kitchen, and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. Several TV series in collaboration with Lionsgate are also in the works. Simply put, Common wants to expand his experience, provide opportunities for others, and inspire.
“I want to live my passions, help others do the same, and make the world a better place, as much as I can,” he said. “This—all of this—inspires me to work harder and do more.”
Not every actor or actress has the privilege of telling a story on screen whose message is completely synergetic with their own. Actress Taraji P. Henson would tell you it’s no accident. Films that cover controversial subjects, female achievements or human rights within the African-American community are exactly her cup of tea.
Much like her role in the acclaimed drama Hidden Figures, where Henson plays the brilliant Katherine Johnson, an African-American female mathematician whose calculations as a NASA employee were critical to the success of one of the greatest space operations in history.
“I feel like it’s my obligation,” Henson explained in an interview with Ebony.com. “I’m an artist. I want to tell stories that matter. I’m always interested in movies that move humanity forward, change perspectives of people you know.”
The Golden Globe winner and Academy Award-nominated Henson, 48, is conscious about picking projects that speak to her heart and further her own message of equality and progress for the African-American community.
She addresses the historic yet still relevant topic of race relations in her latest non-fiction film, The Best of Enemies. Set in Durham, North Carolina, in 1971, the film—based upon the novel by Osha Gray Davidson, The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South—centers around a two-week-long discussion of ordinary citizens on the subject of school integration.
Based on a true story, the film brings together members of the black and white community—most dramatically the two main characters; Ann Atwater, played by Henson, a local firebrand of a Civil Rights activist, and Claiborne Paul “C.P.” Ellis, played by Sam Rockwell, the head of the Durham Chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
Portraying the true-life character of Atwater gave Henson a chance to show the integral part segregation has played within American society. It also gave the actress a platform for her own civil rights advocacy offstage, she explains in an interview with Oprahmag.com.
“What’s happening today is that everyone is doing a lot of talking, but not much listening. We should try listening to understand the other side…Often, we can find better solutions that way,” Henson said. “But if you try to match hate with hate, you’re not going to get anywhere.
“At the end of the day, we just need to have more compassion for each other and unconditional love, no matter our differences or background,” she adds.
Born and raised in southeast Washington, D.C., Henson grew up watching Solid Gold and was inspired by the likes of such acting legends as Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett and Flip Wilson. She studied acting at the famed Howard University and began her Hollywood career guest starring on several television shows before making her breakthrough in the coming-of-age film Baby Boy in 2001. She received praise for her performance as a sex worker in Hustle & Flow (2005) and as a single mother of a child with a disability in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). She also made noteworthy appearances in the action comedy Date Night and the remake of The Karate Kid.
While she is now happily engaged to former NFL quarterback Kevin Hayden and residing in Chicago—her self-proclaimed dream town where everyone is ‘real’—her own life story has not been without its share of strife.
In a recent interview with Variety, Henson opened up about her personal battle with anxiety and depression following two tragedies in her life in 2003—the death of her father, Boris Henson, and also her son’s father, William Lamar Johnson. “We’re walking around broken, wounded and hurt, and we don’t think it’s okay to talk about it,” Henson told Variety’s Elizabeth Wagmeister.
She shared that her depression and anxiety escalated during the skyrocketing success of her pivotal role on the hip-hop TV drama Empire. During that time, she says the desire to pull away from the limelight was strong, as was the longing for more privacy and time for self-care, in addition to caring for her son, Marcell, who was also suffering from depression.
It was while looking for a relatable therapist for Marcell that Henson discovered how tough it was to find one of African-American descent. The experience jump-started her effort to get rid of the taboo associated with metal health, specifically within the African-American community.
“People are killing themselves,” Henson said in the Variety interview. “People are numbing out on drugs. Not everything is fixed with a pill.”
Taking her efforts a step further, the actress created the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation in honor of her father, who also suffered from mental issues following his service in the Vietnam War.
Henson explains that there is still a lot of work to be done, but the first step is to lift up the carpet and talk about it. Her personal advice for others who are struggling is to find a professional therapist—someone who has no stakes involved so that “when you’re on the ledge, you have things to say to yourself that will get you off of it,” she explained.
Henson remains true to herself and her work. Her latest project will be released in 2020 and promoted later this year—a Netflix original police drama called Coffee and Kareem. Henson will star as the girlfriend of a Detroit cop who aims to clear his name and take down the city’s most ruthless criminal with the assistance of her 11-year-old son.
Henson’s main message was perhaps best summed up during her recent Glamour interview: “The fight continues,” she said. “Just like so many women before us who fought so that we could sit here. Now’s not the time to drop the torch.”
“We have to continue fighting,” she insists, “so the ones coming behind us—maybe one day this is not their narrative. So we have to keep fighting.”
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